There is nothing like a pasta salad for outdoor entertaining and dinners on the deck! My Italian pasta salad starts with grilled vegetables to add layers of flavor and is topped with a homemade Italian dressing (why buy when dressing is so easy to make??) for the perfect side for all your summer needs.
Summer continues to be lovely here and we are back to sunny days again. Just in time for my daughter’s week of camp. I’m so happy she wasn’t going last week with the overcast and the humidity and the thunderstorms. That would have been not so much fun.
This week, though, it’s the perfect sort of weather (at least the last couple of days) where it’s warm but not too humid and we can open the windows and save money on air conditioning. I know that’s not possible in much of the southern part of the US and that’s why I would have a lot of trouble leaving New England.
80’s? It’s hot! 90’s? I’m gonna die! 100’s? It’s time to move. 🙂
One thing I love about summer around here is cooking all sorts of foods on the grill. The lovely charred flavor, no heating up the kitchen (or at least less!), and fewer pots to wash. What’s not to love?
I have a few pasta salads I make and I switch out among them depending on my mood and what else we are having for dinner. Three main ones – a Greek pasta salad, a pesto pasta salad, and this Italian pasta salad, though I’m sure I’ll come up with some more when the fancy strikes, since you can’t have too many pasta salad recipes. That sounds impossible to me.
Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean we don’t want our carb fix and pasta salad is great way to go since we love pasta in the summer just as much as we do in winter. However, making warm pasta dishes just isn’t quite as appealing. I wonder why? 😉 Oh…of course I know why! It’s summer! And who wants to slave over a hot stove every night in the summer?
Like my other pasta salads, I’ve been making this pasta salad for a number of years now. I used to make it with raw or steamed veggies, but one day I thought ‘why don’t I grill them?’ So I turned on the grill, tossed the veggies into a grilling basket, tasted the salad, and wondered why I hadn’t been doing this already.
(I have a great, simple grilling basket! No moving parts. No non-stick coating to break down. And close mesh to keep even small pieces where they belong.)
After we tried the grilled pasta salad, there was no going back.
Take some seasonal, sturdy veggies, slice up some tomatoes and olives, marinate cherry sized mozzarella balls in the dressing for extra flavor, and toss with the short pasta of your choice and you’ll have a pasta salad which will be the hit of any BBQ.
For this particular rendition, I used yellow summer squash and broccolini on the grill, but you can mix it up with all sorts of other veggies depending on what looks good at the store and what you have on hand.
Other vegetables which I’ve tried include…
- bell peppers – slice them up about 1/4 inch thick
- all sorts of summer squash, any shape or color – slice them 1/2 inch thick
- green beans – if they are thin, French beans leave them whole, otherwise cut them in to 1 1/2 inch pieces
- cauliflower – cut into florets
- eggplant – use small ones and dice them up
- onion – I like 1/4 inch slices of red onion
- and more! if you think it can be grilled, give it a try
As for the dressing? Simple, simple simple! I can’t remember the last time I bought Italian dressing at the store. I usually make my dressing fresh for each meal, but you can easily make more to have on hand for quick salads.
My Italian pasta salad takes advantage of summer by grilling the vegetables and then tossing them with homemade Italian dressing. Light, fresh, and easy!
- 8 oz cherry sized (ciliegine) mozzarella balls
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
- 12 oz short pasta, such as penne or rotini
- kosher salt
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium summer squash, sliced
- 1 bunch broccolini
- 1 lb cherry tomatoes, cut into wedges
- 1/2 cup halved kalamata olives
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Mix together all the dressing ingredients until well blended.
In a medium bowl, toss the dressing with the mozzarella balls and sliced basil. Set the mozzarella aside to marinate while you make the rest of the salad.
Cook the pasta in well salted water according to package directions. Drain the pasta and toss it with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Let the pasta cool to room temperature.
Heat the grill. Put the grilling basket on the grill and heat until very hot. Toss the summer squash and broccolini with a little bit of olive oil and add them to the grill basket. Grill on high until the vegetables are tender and charred, 7-8 minutes. Cut the vegetables into bite sized pieces.
In a large serving bowl combine the pasta, summer squash, broccolini, cherry tomatoes, and kalamata olives. Pour the mozzarella and Italian dressing over the top and toss to combine.
- When prepping the broccolini, I cut off the ends and grill them whole. If the stems are larger than 1/2 inch in diameter, I slice them in half the long way.
- For the squash, I cut off the ends and slice the squash into long wedges.
- If you can't find cherry sized mozzarella, just buy larger ones and cut them up into smaller pieces.
- Other vegetables are great grilled in this salad, such as red onions, bell peppers, cauliflower, and green beans.
- A grill basket is very important for this recipe to make sure the pieces of vegetable don't fall into the grill.